The latest repressive measures instituted by Vladimir Putin includes wholesale travel bans on millions of Russian citizens. As in the Soviet times, foreign travel is to be made difficult and expensive. Anyone with any contacts overseas is suspect, and the smell of treachery is a miasma over anyone foolish enough to speak out against the mafia regime. Those who believe in a different, more open way for Russia are now themselves seeking to leave, before it is too late.
The lie machine of Russian State propaganda has stepped up its twisting of the truth and indeed there is now significant evidence that the KGB apparatus of bugs, wiretaps and snooping- which dwarfs anything in the West- is being used to discredit those who oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine. The open season unleashed on the leaders of Poland is being openly spoken of as an act of Russian political aggression against the fiercely anti-Putin government in Warsaw.
So far, so unsurprising. Russia is using unconventional means, but its aggressive goals are all too conventional and familiar to those who have studied the KGB. Yet the fact is that the mental health of the Putin regime has now all but collapsed in the face of its own incompetence, violence and paranoia. Brutal, cynical and useless, the Russian state apparatus can no longer bear to look at itself in the mirror of Western scorn. Instead of opening up, Russia is closing, withdrawing and weakening still further. They now regard the Internet as a point of weakness and many senior Russian leaders are forbidden from using email. It may be more secure, but it is also far less efficient. Yet close minded paranoia dictates that security is everything.
As the Russian education system drifts and the country falls into the second division in the international rankings, the closing of Russia's borders is being matched by a closing of Russian minds. It is a fatal process that ultimately can only lead to collapse. I have often wondered that if Russia is structurally incapable of becoming free, then perhaps it would be better for the country to break up, at least giving the component parts of the Empire the chance to create open, creative and wealthy societies. The three million people of Mongolia are clearly in a happier and increasingly more prosperous place than those nations like Buryatia or Tuva that have remained a part of the Russian Imperium. Of course it directly feeds Russian fears to say so, but as Putin repeats the failures of his Czarist predecessors, it seems clear to me that the process of collapse identified one hundred years ago in What is to be Done? is still on-going, and was merely delayed by the modern dress Imperialism of Soviet Socialism.
What a sharp contrast there now is between outward looking and increasingly open China (albeit also increasingly assertive) and the darkening closure of Russia. The Chinese government, for all its faults, has an open and modernizing agenda which makes sense, the Russian government relies on greater theft, greater criminality and greater paranoia.
As the West shakes itself free of Russian energy dependency, and as they seek to counter the unconventional war that Putin has launched against western democratic values, the international influence of the Kremlin will decline. Isolated and internationally hated, Putin has set a course that will lead to failure.
Thirty years ago I was told that support for the "Captive Nations" was a "lost cause". Now I am being told that Putin is- like the USSR- an unassailable fact of life. In fact I am more convinced that ever that in time the path Putin has followed will utterly destroy his Empire. Unless Russia can provide freedom and opportunity to its myriad national citizens, then it serves no purpose, save to be the "prison of nations". History shows that this is not a position that can be sustained in the long term.